28 November 2005 European regulators are heading for a showdown over controversial plans to force telecom and Internet service providers to retain communication data.
Members of the civil liberties committee at the European Parliament voted to make retention of so-called data traffic mandatory for a 12-month period.
Some European officials, including the European Council of Ministers have threatened to push through laws forcing the service providers to hold on to the data logs for 24 months.
Data logs can be used to track telephone calls, emails and Internet sites visited, although they would not record the content of any communication. Typically, service providers would only store the data – as billing records – for three months.
Under the proposals from the European Parliament, the communication service providers will be reimbursed for the cost of complying with the regulations. Access to the records would only be granted on the authority of a judge.
Data retention has been viewed in some quarters as another weapon to help combat terrorism.
According to MEP Alexander Alvaro, who drafted the committee’s opinion, the vote was a “major success on a highly sensitive and delicate subject that seeks to strike a fair and workable balance between the needs of combating terrorism without eroding basic civil liberties and the right to privacy.”
But a joint statement issued by the trade associations of e-communications service providers said there was little evidence to support the need for such data retention: “Retaining traffic data for longer periods will only produce more data volumes, without increasing the quality of information.”
The amendments agreed by MEPs still need to be passed by the European Council, made up of minister from EU member states, which will vote in December 2005.